Under The Streets Of London – Episode 21

Listening to Niall McMenamy had reminded Eliza just how brave and clever this underground project really was, and although she was still so new to the company she felt a burning need to protect it.

“The wage we pay is a decent one,” her employer went on, “and the conditions, despite the danger, are reasonable. We do everything we can to protect our workforce. Yesterday was just unfortunate, and we can only thank the Lord that no-one lost their life. Ah, this must be them now!”

At the sound of heavy boots on the steps beyond Eliza felt her heart flutter ridiculously. She was acting like some flighty young thing, not a Londoner with a job and responsibilities.

She smoothed down her skirt and forced herself to move across to open the door, and there he was, the young Irishman, looking every bit as handsome as she remembered and filling the doorway right in front of her.

“Come in.”

She stepped hurriedly back and he shuffled through, his brother behind him. Both men had their worker’s caps in their hands and had clearly tidied themselves up for the meeting. Which was ironic, given that the company would likely want to capture them knee-deep in the city’s mud.

“Welcome, welcome,” Malcolm said, bounding forward and shaking both their hands as earnestly if they were stakeholders in the company and not mere labourers. “I’m so glad you made it, and I’m very keen to talk business with you.”

The older one, Seamus, looked stunned but Niall took it all in his long stride.

“It’s wonderful to be here in the Metropolitan offices, sir. I’m so excited by the work you’re doing with the underground trains.”

“Are you? In what way?”

“It just seems such a miracle that man has come so far that he can transport himself mechanically beneath the very earth from whence he came!”

Malcolm blinked and Eliza watched, entranced, as Niall continued to speak.

“I’m not a clever man, Mr Jones. I’m not an engineer, more’s the pity, for I haven’t had the education. But I’m wise enough to spot cleverness in others and I think this project is the cleverest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you, son. Niall, isn’t it?”

“Niall McMenamy, sir, yes, and this is my brother Seamus.”

“And you’re over from Ireland?”

“Trying to make better lives for ourselves, sir, and for our families. Ireland is stuck in the mud of its own failing agriculture, sir. But England – England is alive to a future beyond the soil. That excites me, sir; it excites me very much.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

Malcolm looked over at Eliza and nodded silent approval and she felt her heart sing. The company would pay well for the photographs, she knew, and she hoped the money would help Niall’s sad-eyed brother bring his wife and daughter to England.

The fact that it would also mean her seeing more of Niall was all to the good – for the company, of course.

Feeling his lovely blue eyes upon her, she dared to meet his gaze and the shock that ran through her was almost as strong as when the earth had collapsed beneath her feet yesterday.

“Take care, Eliza,” she told herself sternly. Her father was a kind and liberal man but even so she was not sure he would look favourably upon a muscled navvy as a son-in-law.

Not that Niall was even interested in her. He probably had a sweetheart in that pub, the George. Or back home in Ireland there might be a dark-eyed girl waiting for him to earn enough to marry her.

No, she had to look on this man as a business partner, no more. Even so, it would be nice to have the chance to spend a little more time with him and his vivid ideas.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.